Tag Archives: usa

Tom Arms’ World Review

Anti-semitism

Anti–Semitism is rocketing worldwide. In London, the Metropolitan Police, reported that that incidents of anti-Semitism increased 1,350 percent since October 7. Similar figures are emerging from the US, France, Germany, the Netherlands….

This is because the Israeli government has become a symbol violent oppression and far-right intolerance based on religion.

And the sad fact is, too many people conflate Judaism with Israel. They fail to recognise that there are a sizeable number of Jews in Israel who do not support Netanyahu and there is an even larger number of Jews outside Israel who do not support his Likud-led coalition.

However, a large number of people instead wrongly believe that the actions of the Netanyahu government are a mirror reflection of the views of worldwide Jewry. This is partly because Israel was created as a homeland for Jews and all Jews have the right to citizenship in Israel.

In a way the global wave of anti-Semitism is in the interests of Netanyahu. It reinforces the view of Jews as victims and allows him to claim that he is fighting for all Jews. Otherwise, why would people be attacking innocent Jews outside Israel?

It is complicated and sad. For many years – while successive Israeli governments struggled to establish the Jewish state against the odds – the link between Israel and Judaism worked in favour of world Jewry. Now that Israel is seen by many as oppressive and undemocratic it works against then.

West Bank

Spare a thought for the West Bank. In fact, focus on it, because if you fail to do so, it may well erupt into an even more violent conflagration then what we are seeing in Gaza.

The West Bank, unlike Gaza, is not under the control of Hamas. It is nominally controlled by the Palestinian Authority which in turn is controlled by the remnants of the PLO. In reality, however, security on the West Bank is in the hands of the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) which means Israel controls the West Bank.

Eighty-two percent of the West Bank’s residents are Palestinians. The remainder are Jews. They are illegal because since 1967 the international community has refused to recognise Israeli sovereignty over the territory and branded most of the Jewish settlements as illegal.

There are an estimated 600,000 Jewish settlers in the West Bank. Most of them are Orthodox Jews who claim the land as part of God’s contract with the Jews.

As the number of Illegal settlers have increased so have demands that the West Bank (Judea and Samaria of the Old Testament) be formally annexed. To help matters along, some settlers have taken to attacking Palestinian settlements, driving them out of their homes and, in some cases, murdering them.

Some members of the current Israeli cabinet are, in fact, illegal West Bank settlers. One of them, Itamar Ben-Gvir, is responsible for security issues. He has been seen in recent weeks handing out guns to settlers on the West Bank.

Since 7 October the settlers have increased their attacks on West Bank Palestinians partly because they see an opportunity and partly to pre-empt retribution by West Bank Palestinians in support for their countrymen trapped in Gaza. According to the UN, nearly 200 Palestinians have been killed in settler attacks since 7 October. The UN adds that the Israeli army has done nothing to stop the attacks.

There is little that West Bank Palestinians can do in response. There have been demonstrations in Ramallah, Hebron or Nablus, but security is tightly controlled by the Palestinian Authority working in conjunction with the Israeli military. For the moment they have a lid on the security situation. But then, they thought they had a lid on Gaza.

USA Republican Party

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A huge moment in the US

It’s worth taking a moment to think about the enormity of the events in the US.

I remember that day, not far off 49 years ago, when the resignation of a US President was of such monumental importance that there was tv at breakfast time.

Almost half a century on, there’s a 24 hour news cycle and social media to chew over the fact that a former leader of the free world has been charged with trying to fraudulently overturn the result of the election in which he was defeated by Joe Biden.

You can read the whole indictment here on the Guardian’s website.

Its opening paragraphs are shocking:

Despite having lost, the Defendant was determined to remain in power. So for more than 2 months following the election day on 3 November 2020, the Defendant spread lies that there had been outcome determinative fraud in the election and that he had actually won. These claims were false and the Defendant knew they were false. But the President repeated and disseminated them anyway, to make his knowingly false claims appear legitimate, create an intense national atmosphere of mistrust and anger and erode public trust in the administration of the election.

It’s about as far from the presidential oath, in which he promised to preserve, protect and defend the US constitution as you can get.

The indictment relies heavily on the fact that Trump and his co-conspirators knew what they were doing. A significant part of the evidence is based on the contemporaneous notes of Vice President Mike Pence. Trump had asked him not to declare the results of the election in Congress on 6 January and at one point, when Pence refused, told him that he was “too honest.”

The team from Pod Save America, one of my favourite US politics podcasts analyse the indictment here. Jon Favreau, Jon Lovett and Tommy Vietor were all staffers during the Obama administration and set up Crooked Media in 2017.

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Observations of an expat: De Santis – Trump with Brains

Governor Ron DeSantis is a clever version of Donald Jesus Trump. And because of that, he could be even more dangerous than the most dangerous person to ever occupy the White House.

Trump was fond of boasting that he was “the smartest US president ever.” Well, that was obviously another one of his lies, and there was a reason his academic records were kept under wrap.

DeSantis can legitimately lay claim to a well-stocked cranium. He graduated top of his class at Harvard and near the top at Yale Law School.

Trump spent the Vietnam War years doing his best to not acquire a venereal disease while sleeping with as many women as possible. “My own personal Vietnam,” he said.

DeSantis went almost straight from law school into the Navy’s Judge Advocate General’s office where he received a bronze star for his attachment to Navy SEAL teams in Iraq and Afghanistan. The only blot on an exemplary medal-strewn military career is a claim that he oversaw force-feeding at Guantanamo Bay.

DeSantis went straight from the navy into politics and in 2012 was elected to Congress where he became a founding member of the Freedom Caucus which can be described as the right-wing of the far right wing of the far right of the right wing of the Republican Party.

In 2016 Ron DeSantis was narrowly elected Governor of Florida and started putting his far-right views into practice. The teaching of critical race theory, gender identification and sexual orientation has been banned in state schools. Asylum seekers were flown to Martha’s Vineyard. Transgender girls were banned from competing in school sports. Corporation tax been lowered. Florida was one of the most open states during the pandemic. Abortions after six weeks were banned….

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Tom Arms’ World Review

France

It is a case of mixed messages coming out of Paris. On the one hand, we have President Emmanuel Macron telling homeward bound journalists that Taiwan should not be a European concern and that France (and Europe by extension) should not let its China policy be determined by American “extremists”.

On the other hand, while Macron was speaking after his state visit to China, the French frigate Prairial was steaming through the Taiwan Straits while the Chinese Communist Party was flexing its muscles with an encirclement exercise of the island.

France,  is unique as the only European nation with substantial holdings in the Indo-Pacific region. It has seven territories with 7000 troops protecting a total population of 1.65 million. Ninety percent of France’s exclusive economic zone is in the region.

China is a clear threat to French interests. That is why the French navy regularly conducts exercises with its American equivalent and military equipment sold to Taiwan in the 1990s is still maintained by French technicians.

But Macron wants a bigger slice of the growing Chinese pie. This is why 53 business executives accompanied the president on his state visit. He also does see France as a counter balance to America—allied with but independent of the super power, a foreign policy that France has pursued in varying degrees since the days of Charles deGaulle.

In short, the French are doing what they do best: Juggling a dozen diplomatic balls at the same time.

USA

1.25 million Americans have top secret clearance. They include contractors as well as military personnel, civil servants and politicians. Therefore it is not surprising that one of them was a low-level 21-year-old right-wing, racist, gun enthusiast who decided to be Mr Big to his friends by posting secrets on an internet gaming site.

Jack Texeira, who worked in the intelligence wing of the Massachusetts Air National Guard, will have the rest of his life to regret his vanity.

So will millions in Ukraine and elsewhere in the world. Texeira’s leak disclosed CIA assessments of the Ukraine military on the eve of their counter offensive against Russian forces in the Donbas. It revealed which brigades are the best equipped and trained. It exposed both weaknesses and strengths which the Russians can now exploit.

Texeira also released a CIA assessment of the political machinations within the Kremlin. There were probably few surprises for Moscow, but knowing that the CIA knew something enables the FSB (Russian intelligence) to track the information back to its source and thus endangers American agents in Russia.

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Observations of an expat: Africa

It is big. It has deserts, jungles and rolling veldt. It is wracked with disease, poverty, tribal divisions, civil wars, political instability and corruption. Millions are trying to escape it.

It is Africa. It is the future. Or at least its natural resources are.

The US Geological Survey has identified 34 key minerals that a 21st century developed country needs. Twenty-nine of them are in Africa.

In the case of one of them – cobalt – 70 percent of the world’s known resources is in the war-wracked Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Africa’s potential, and the West’s growing dependence on its resources is the major reason for a string of recent high-profile American visits to the continent. Vice President Kamala Harris has just returned from a three-nation tour. She was preceded in the recent past by Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and US ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas- Greenfield. In December, the Biden Administration hosted an Africa Summit in Washington for the continent’s political and business leaders.

But the America’s African initiative could be too little too late. Twenty years ago the US was Africa’s biggest trading partner followed by Britain, France and Germany. Today the West’s trading figures with Africa are dwarfed by China.

And with trade comes political influence and access to the minerals needed for computers and batteries for a green, prosperous and secure future.

The West is big with aid. The US leads the pack. Last year it gave African countries a staggering $6.2 billion in humanitarian aid – twenty percent of all the aid received. European countries and institutions combined provided about half of the continent’s aid. China was not even in the top ten.

Beijing is not big on aid. It is ginormous on win/win investment and trade. Chinese investments in Africa are currently estimated to be worth $2 trillion and are generating $200 billion a year in trade. There are an estimated 20,000 Chinese technicians and managers nursing Beijing’s investments which are primarily in infrastructure projects such as ports, airports, roads and railways.

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Tom Arms’ World Review

USA

America’s looking glass politics dominated the news agenda again this week. Donald Trump is not a perp. He is a victim. And he is exploiting his victimhood to the maximum political advantage.

The ex-president has re-galvanised his base with classic hyperbolic claims about Democratic witch hunts. The sad thing is that in the case of this week’s indictment – the first of a past or present American president – he may actually be right.

The office of District Attorney for South Manhattan is an elected one, and Alvin Bragg won the vote on the back of a promise to bring Donald Trump to trial and convict him. Lady Justice is portrayed blindfolded with her sword and balancing scales. She is not elected.

The law is meant to be based on precedent.  No man (or woman) should be protected by their political position but neither should their political position be the determining factor in their innocence or guilt.

Of course, Donald Trump, is more than prepared to play both sides of the legal coin. His 2016 campaign rallies were marked by the endless chant/rant of “Lock her up” related to Hillary Clinton’s use of private emails for government use. The demand was dropped as soon as Trump entered the White House.

Possibly the saddest aspect of Trump’s indictment is that DA Bragg’s case is the weakest against the ex-president. Secret documents at Mar-a-Lago, the January 6 riots and attempts to fix the Georgia election returns all look more promising. Legal eagles believe he can beat the rap on the Stormy Daniels case – if only on one of several technicalities. If Trump is acquitted then he could use that acquittal to fight off other legal challenges and ride the victimhood express all the way to the Republican Party nomination and possibly beyond.

China

Diplomats say interesting things sometimes. Fu Cong, Beijing’s ambassador to the EU was certainly in expansive and interesting mode when he spoke to the New York Times on the eve of the Macron/von de Leyen state visit to China.

At the top of President Emmanuel Macron’s agenda in Beijing was Ukraine. In fact, his feet had barely touched Chinese soil when he was telling Xi Jinping: “I am counting on you to bring Russia to its senses.”

France, America and the rest of the West are terrified that the Xi/Putin “friendship without limits” will eventually lead to Chinese weaponry supporting Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. Ambassador Fu, however, dismissed the “limitless” phrase as “rhetoric.” He also pointed out that Beijing has refused to recognise the 2014 annexation of Crimea or the more recent Russian land grabs in the Donbas.

All of the above is true. It is also encouraging that a senior Chinese diplomat has gone on record to try and balance the debate. But friendship with Russia and Putin remains at or near the centre of Xi’s world strategy. To put it bluntly, Xi sees Russia as key to his plan of eroding the Western-oriented world order and replacing it with one that is more autocracy-friendly.

The Chinese president hinted at his big picture plan in his opening remarks to Macron’s visit when he said that China and France have the responsibility to transcend their differences “as the world undergoes proposed historical changes.”

To realise this plan, Xi wants to drive a wedge between European and American policymakers. To do this he is dangling the financial incentive of improved Sino-European trade links. That is why EU Commission President Ursula von de Leyen and an accompanying herd of French businessmen have been tacked onto Macron’s state visit.

The question remains whether the fine words that come out of the Macron/von de Leyen visit will be mere “rhetoric.”

Finland

Russia’s border with NATO is now 800-miles longer. Finland has ended decades of neutrality and joined the Western Alliance. Simultaneously it has changed its government.

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Tom Arms’ World Review

USA – Trump

I may have written too early and ill-advisedly when last week I predicted the political decline of Donald Trump.

His delayed indictment in the Stormy Daniels case has finally hit the newsstands and the ex-president is deftly using his victimhood to rally his political base. “This is,” he said “political persecution and election interference at the highest level in history.”

Clearly the man never studied the classics or medieval European history.

But this has not stopped the conspiracy theorists from flooding cyber space with outlandish claims and threats of civil war. Qanon was quick to tweet that Trump is waging a secret war “against a network of Satan-worshipping paedophiles in government, business and the media.” It added ominously: “We are ready when you are…Mr President.”

Trump’s opponents in the race for the Republican nomination – Mike Pompeo, Nikki Haley and Ron DeSantis – are also lining up behind the ex-president to condemn the indictment as a witch hunt. They are all afraid of alienating Trump’s political base.

But how big is that base? For a start, a significant proportion of Trump’s base in the 2016 and 2020 elections were White evangelical Christians. They comprise roughly a quarter of the American population and 80 percent of them voted for Trump.

However, a large proportion of the Evangelicals are one issue voters – abortion. They have won that battle with Trump’s Supreme Court nominees. They are unlikely to shift their allegiance to “socialist” Joe Biden but Trump’s apparent lack of morals could pull them towards one of the other Republican hopefuls, an independent third candidate or abstention.

That still leaves a sizable chunk of Trump supporters who have now been galvanised by their leader’s imminent arrest. Their reaction is the major unknown in American politics, and, following the Capitol Hill riots, potentially worrying. There may even be enough Trump supporters within the Republican Party to secure him the nomination. In fact, as of this week, he is 30 points ahead of his nearest challenger Ron DeSantis. But that could be the end of Trump’s political road. The country is hopelessly split between Republicans and Democrats. The balance lies with the roughly thirty percent of the voting population who are registered independents. They, and disenchanted evangelicals and moderate Republicans are unlikely to cast their vote for a felon, or even an alleged felon.

USA – guns

There are lots of reasons Americans have more guns than people – 395 million shooters for 336 million people.

There is the pioneer Wild West culture, Hollywood’s glorification of gun culture, personal and family protection, law enforcement, recreational target shooting, hunting and, of course, the pursuit of criminal objectives.

To my mind, the most worrying reason is protection of the individual from the government. This is one of the arguments by the National Rifle Association and politicians such as Donald Trump and Ted Cruz. It is a justification which dates back to the 1689 English Bill of Rights when citizens were guaranteed the right to carry guns as a defense against the imposition of a Catholic monarch.

This fear of “big government” using its power to deny Americans basic human rights was one of the reasons for the Second Amendment. They had, after all, just fought a revolution against a government which had blocked their liberties.

The problem for gun advocates is that society and politics has moved on from the 18th century. We have now had 240 years of American governments elected by universal franchise (except for women who did not secure the right to vote until 1920) to pass laws to protect them. If the gun lobby has a problem with lack of representation in federal government then it should use the legal instruments in the US constitution to amend it.

Instead its solution is more guns. Guns in schools. Guns in churches. Guns in shops and theatres and guns in homes. Following the latest school shooting in Nashville, Tennessee, there are new reasons. Shootings are not a gun problem. They are a mental health problem. There are also, it is being argued post-Nashville, now a transgender problem because the shooter was a transgender person.

Very few Americans dare to suggest that the guns themselves are the problem. This is because the Second Amendment has become a political sacred cow.

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Tom Arms’ World Review

China

China has marked the first anniversary of the Ukraine War with a pair of unsurprising foreign policy papers. The first one concentrates on the Ukraine War and proposes a well-trod and contradictory solution: Russia respects Ukrainian national sovereignty. Everyone respects Russia’s security aspirations and nobody imposes sanctions against anyone.

The second paper is more about calls for a new world order. Again, no real surprises. China is trying to re-write the international rule book by playing to the interests of the developing world in Africa, Asia and South America.

The second paper is important but China’s position on Ukraine is of more immediate interests and whether Beijing likes it or not, the two issues are clearly linked. The outcome of the Ukraine War will influence which way the global South jumps: If Ukraine wins then American influence grows. If Russia stomps Ukraine then it is a victory for Beijing as well as Moscow.

But back to China’s Ukraine paper which was preceded by foreign minister Wang Yi’s tour of Europe and participation in the Munich Security Conference. The goal of the trip was to drive a wedge between the US and its NATO allies. He failed.

Hanging over Wang’s trip was the claim by Secretary of State Antony Blinken and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg that China is on the cusp of supplying weaponry to Vladimir Putin. Wang Yi denied this to EU foreign affairs commissioner Josep Borrell. But at the same time, Chinese diplomats, are letting it be known that the option is on the table. And if the US pushes them too far they will use it.

START

START has stopped. To be more precise it has been suspended by Vladimir Putin. This means that the last of the US-Russian strategic arms agreements has crumbled. These treaties were key building blocks in the diplomatic structure that ended the Cold War and continues to govern East-West relations.

So what is START? Well, for a start, it is an acronym for Strategic Arms Reduction Talks. Its full name is actually New START and it replaces START One which expired in 2009 as well as START Two and three which never got off the ground and the Treaty of Moscow (aka SORT).

What does (or did) START do? It cut by 10 percent the number of strategic missile launchers of Russia and the US and set up a system of on-site inspections to verify that both sides were sticking to the agreement. The total number of launch platforms, which includes submarines, missile siloes and heavy bombers is limited to 1,550 each. It does not reduce the number of nuclear warheads they can hold, just the delivery systems. But then warheads are pretty useless if a country does not have the means to deliver them.

The START talks are the successor negotiations to the SALT (Strategic Arms Limitation) talks which started with the 1972 ABM (Anti-Ballistic Missile) Treaty and limited the increase in the size of the super powers’ nuclear arsenals. At the height of the Cold War the Soviet Union had an estimated 40,000 nuclear warheads and the US 30,000.

President George W. Bush started unravelling the strategic arms structure in 2001 when he withdrew from the ABM Treaty over Russian objections. START was a major foreign policy victory for the Obama Administration but in 2019 Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump withdrew from the INF Treaty which limited the deployment of Intermediate-range nuclear weapons in Europe.

New START was last treaty standing. It was due to expire in 2021, but was extended for another five years. However, the Russians have been in breach of the agreement since March 2020. That is the last time Americans were allowed to inspect Russian facilities. The initial excuse for refusing access was the pandemic. That was superseded by the Ukraine War, which, of course, is the reason for the current suspension and, as most diplomats know, there are few things more permanent than the temporary.

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Observations of an expat: Happy Birthday

Fans of our foreign editor, Tom Arms, will be delighted to hear that he has started a weekly podcast, Transatlantic Riff.

Happy Birthday Ukraine, the Russian people, Europe, America and all the rest of the world.

The Ukraine War is one year old. An estimated 300,000 lives have been lost so far – and that is only the soldiers.

More than 5.2 million refugees have fled the fighting, mainly women and children who have left fathers, sons and husbands behind. Those who remain in Ukraine live in daily fear of Russian missile attacks. Many are without water, electricity or heating.

The ripple effects of the Ukraine War have encompassed the world. A trillion dollars’ worth of damage has been inflicted on Ukraine and the war has so far cost Europe and America an estimated $215 billion and this is only the beginning.

The Ukraine War has closed key gas and oil pipelines from Russia to Europe and forced Europeans to seek alternative supplies from America and Middle East. This in turn has pushed energy prices to crisis levels.

Inflation has been fuelled by energy problems and food shortages as Ukraine, Russia and Belarus are major suppliers of grain, sunflower oil and fertilisers.

The war has also produced tectonic diplomatic shifts. It has united Ukrainians and provided them with a clear national identity reinforced by a charismatic leader. Yes, Putin is right when he says Ukraine’s history is closely linked with that of Russia. But its future is not.

The war has also re-united Europe and NATO. For years America has complained about low levels of European defense spending, especially in Germany. Donald Trump even threatened to withdraw from the alliance. That has ended. Europeans are spending more and sending aid to Ukraine. The EU financial aid is actually $5 billion more than America’s $45 billion. But America’s total commitment of humanitarian, financial and military -dwarves the contributions of all the other countries combined.

Putin claims that his invasion is a reaction to NATO enlargement. If so, the war has become a self-fulfilling prophecy as Sweden and Finland have reversed their long-standing commitments to neutrality to apply for NATO membership and Ukraine is now a de facto member of the Western Alliance, but still outside the ultimate protection of Article Five.

Vladimir Putin’s repeated threats – veiled and unveiled – to use nuclear weapons has also revived the fear of a nuclear war. As has his announcement this week that he is suspending Russia’s in arms reduction talk, formally ending inspections of nuclear weapons sites and increasing Moscow’s nuclear arsenal.

On the ground, both sides are literally dug in with trenches crisscrossing in a general north-south gash across the Eastern part of Ukraine. Russia is believed to be on the verge of throwing another 200,000 conscripts against the Ukrainian frontline. The Ukrainian, for their part are hoping that poorly-led Russian troops will exhaust themselves against their defensive wall and fall to a Ukrainian counter offensive in the spring.

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Tom Arms’ World Review

USA and Israel

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken this week subtly attacked Benjamin Netanyahu.  He didn’t directly criticise him, but the inference was clear. With a poker-faced Netanyahu standing next to him, Blinken pointedly listed the “core values” that the US and Israel shared: “respect for human rights. The equal administration of justice for all. Equal rights for minority groups. The rule of law, a free press, an independent judiciary and a robust civil society.”

Israel’s conservative press immediately and viciously attacked Blinken for “interfering in domestic Israeli politics.”  This is because by highlighting these “core values” Blinken implied that Netanyahu’s ultra-nationalist government is veering away from them and heading towards what Hungary’s Viktor Orban calls an “illiberal democracy.”

The government’s claim to the disputed West Bank (now populated with 400,000 Israeli settlers) undermines Israeli claims that it protects human rights and the equal rights of minority groups. As did the continuing and spiralling violence which in January claimed 30 Palestinian and seven Israeli lives.

The rule of law and an independent judiciary is threatened by plans to politicise the Israeli Supreme Court and empower the legislature to override Supreme Court Decisions. It is further damaged by the fact that Netanyahu himself has been indicted on charges of fraud, breach of trust, bribery and corruption.

Azerbaijan and Armenia

Nagorno-Karabakh is threatening to explode again. Either that or an estimated 120,000 Armenian civilians, including 30,000 children, will starve to death or die of disease because of an Azerbaijani blockade.

The Azerbaijan-Armenia dispute over Nagorno-Karabakh goes back to the 1917 break-up of the Russian empire. Stalin’s purges pushed it into the background but when the Soviet Empire dissolved frictions reappeared. The two countries have gone to war over the region in the 1990s, 2016 and most recently in 2020.

In each case Russia backed its traditional proxy Christian Armenia (the oldest Christian country in the world) and Turkey supported Muslim Azerbaijan. Turkish support has paid off for autocratic oil-rich Azerbaijan which has been able to buy the latest military equipment from Turkey. They soundly defeated the Armenians in the last conflict and substantially reduced the territory occupied by Armenians.

But that is not good enough for Azerbaijani President Ilhan Aliyev. On 12 December he sent in troops to block the Armenian community’s only access to the outside world, the Lachlin Corridor. He then told the Armenians they could either leave their homes in Nagorno-Karabakh, become Azeri citizens or starve.

They are starving. They are also without medical supplies, electricity is rationed, schools are closed and there is limited communication with the outside world. The Armenian Society of Fellows claims that Ilhan Aliyev is guilty of attempted genocide. The blockade has condemned by the EU, the US, The Council of Europe, Amnesty International and just about every developed country and a big chunk of the rest of the world.

But Aliyev ignores them all. His hand is strengthened by 1- Russia being distracted by Ukraine and 2- oil. Armenia was the birthplace of modern oil production and remains one of the world’s top producers. The current energy crisis is keeping prices high and allowing to hold at bay energy-poor Europeans. In the meantime, the Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh starve.

Tyre Nichols, USA

The sad case of Tyre Nichols has highlighted America’s problem of police brutality. It doesn’t matter if it is blue on black, black on black or white on black; America has a problem with police forces too quick to resort to violence.

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Tom Arms’ World Review

Ukraine

Ukraine is tank country. It is part of the flat and fertile North European plain which stretches from the Urals to the North Sea. That very same corridor has throughout history doubled as a military highway for invading armies head East or West.

This geopolitical fact is why Russia started the Ukraine War with a massive arsenal of 10,000 tanks and Ukraine had 2,500.  Since the fighting started nearly a year ago, the Russians have lost about 1,500 of their tanks. But relatively speaking to the initial size of their forces, the Ukrainians have fared worse with a loss of about a quarter of their tanks.

The Ukrainian losses on the tank battlefield, coupled with the importance of armour in the flat terrain, is the reason why Vlodomyr Zelensky is pleading with NATO for more armour.

The three countries that have tanks to spare are the US, Germany and Poland. The UK and France decided ten years ago that another North European war was unlikely and ran down their tank forces. France has only 200 main battle tanks and the UK about 220.

The US is well short of the Russians at 6,612 tanks, but if you add Germany’s 2,761 Leopard tanks and Poland’s fast-growing arsenal, the Ukrainians could match Russia tank for tank.

The problem is that the Germans are reluctant to be seen to escalate the conflict and the Biden Administration needs a strong European (which in this case means German) commitment to justify sending state of the art M1 Abrams tanks.

This leaves Poland, with some help from Finland and the Baltic states, to fill the yawning gap in Ukrainian armoured battalions. In the meantime, Ukraine is preparing for Russia’s inevitable tank-led spring offensive.

New Zealand

Jacinda Adern, has voluntarily, out of the blue, resigned. The prime minister of tiny New Zealand is one of the most respected international figures. She successfully introduced strict gun laws after the Christchurch mosque shooting left 51 dead; led her Labour Party to an historic landslide victory and organised one of the few successful containments of the covid virus. But Ms Adern has decided her work is done and is stepping down.

Now compare the New Zealand leader to other Western politicians who are prepared to lie, cheat and twist the law to cling to power. Britain’s Boris Johnson and America’s Donald Trump immediately spring to mind. Trump with his unfounded claim that he won the 2020 presidential election and Boris with who claimed ignorance of Downing Street parties during the covid lockdown. Ms Adern led by example when she was in office and she is doing same with her departure and is being praised for doing so. Politicians who are concerned about their legacies should take note.

USA

The moral high ground is where every politician wants to be. Donald Trump has never managed more than a foot or two up the mountain and his failure to climb higher was a factor in his 2020 electoral defeat at the hands of “relatively honest” Joe Biden. Now, Biden has suffered a major downhill slide: classified documents have been found where they should not be – in his office and even his garage.  Their discovery has inevitably been compared to the discovery of classified material in Trump’s Mar-a-lago home and led to another special counsel investigation of another president.

However, document-gate does not appear to have adversely impacted on Biden’s popularity. His approval ratings have actually gone up this month from 38 to 44 percent.  Pundits believe that the voters are inured to moral shortcomings but have been impressed that the US is enjoying record unemployment, lower inflation and impressed by the Democrats’ performance in the mid-term elections.

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Tom Arms’ World Review

United States

The Kevin McCarthy election fiasco will have far-reaching consequences for Speaker McCarthy, Donald Trump, the Republican Party, the conduct of US government and the rest of the world. Let’s start with Mr. Trump. He endorsed Mr McCarthy. The “Never Kevins” in the far-right Republican Freedom Caucus ignored him. The voters ignored his key endorsements in the mid-term elections. Trump’s star is still in the firmament, but on the wane.

Now for the Republican Party. The battle to secure McCarthy’s election exposed a split. A small group of 20 right-wing extremists were able to delay and nearly blocked the election of Kevin McCarthy against the wishes of 202 of their party colleagues. They have also wrung key concessions out of the Speaker. The Freedom Caucus have discovered power. They will use it.

What are these concessions and what impact will their implementation have? First of all, if any one member of Congress does not like something that Speaker McCarthy has done they can table a vote to remove him. At the very least, this has the potential to seriously disrupt and delay congressional business. .  This means that McCarthy will be much more politically circumspect then he might have been otherwise.

Next, the Speaker has agreed to give more time to debate and amend legislation on the floor of the house. The Freedom Caucus are also known as “Disrupters” and they are particularly keen on disrupting or blocking any spending bills, especially those related to Ukraine and foreign aid. And if it means stopping the machinery of government, then, according to Freedom Caucus members, so be it.

France

The British NHS is not the only European health service with problems. The French are also wringing their medical hands. The problem? Not enough staff and – as in Britain – the looming threat of strikes. As the New Year dawned some Paris hospitals reported 90 percent of staff reported sick in protest at working conditions. The country’s second largest health union has called for an “unlimited walkout” of nurses followed by a strike by GPs.

President Emmanuel Macron is throwing money at the problem but so far it is not working. Forty percent of French nurses are planning to leave the profession this year despite an extra $10 billion wage package.  Wannabe doctors are being offered a $50,000 golden handshake to enter the profession.

The French desperately needs them. Rural areas are especially short of medical staff, some communities have been without a doctor’s surgery for several years and the situation is only likely to worsen as about half of the French doctors are over 55 and fast approaching retirement age.

UK

There is a stand-out villain in Prince Harry’s book “Spare” – the press, especially Britain’s tabloid newspapers. I, in common with most of the public, have some sympathy and understanding with Harry’s views especially as one of the worst elements of the tabloids – the paparazzi played a major part in his mother’s death.

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Roe vs Wade struck out as illiberal forces gain ground

There was no surprise about yesterday’s decision by the US Supreme Court to overturn the historic Roe vs Wade decision. The ruling, which ended half a century of constitutional protection for abortion, had been leaked the beginning of May. The ruling, from which three Democrat judges dissented, is expected to further divide the nation ahead of November’s midterm elections.

The verdict does not make abortion illegal in the USA but it does allow individual states to pass their own laws restricting abortion to the earliest weeks of pregnancy or situations such as rape.

The ruling is likely to stoke further tensions in a country that is increasingly polarised. It could also presage the overturning of other rights such as same sex marriage and access to contraception.

The Roe vs Wade decision dates to 1973, six years after Liberal MP David Steel introduced the Abortion Act as a private members bill in the House of Commons. Lord Steel has since argued for further liberation of the law. But abortion remains controversial in the UK with regular protests outside abortion clinics.

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Robb Elementary School shooting – will America ever get a grip on guns?

We woke to the grim news this morning of another mass shooting in a school in the USA. Nineteen young children and two adults died in a shooting at Robb Elementary School in south Texas. The gunman, eighteen years old, had purchased two assault rifles and used them for a mass slaughter before being shot dead by police.

President Joe Biden just back from Asia made an emotion speech.

“As a nation we have to ask when in God’s name are we going to stand up to the gun lobby. I am sick and tired of it – we have to act.”

Vice President Kamala Harris, reported to be close to tears, said:

“Every time a tragedy like this happens, our hearts break. And our broken hearts are nothing compared to the broken hearts of those families – and yet it keeps happening. So, I think we all know and have said many times with each other: Enough is enough. Enough is enough.”

 

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Tom Arms’ World Review – 13 March 2022

Back in the halcyon days of the Cold War both sides accepted a nuclear strategy called Mutual Assured Destruction which was gifted with the appropriate acronym of MAD. It had a simple basis: Both sides (the West and the Soviet Union) possessed enough nuclear weapons to wipe out the other (and the rest of the world). Therefore it was in neither’s interest to use their nuclear weapons. As mad as MAD sounds, it worked. No nuclear weapons by either the US or Soviet Union, or Britain or France were used throughout the Cold War. There were some almost incidents, such as the Cuban Missile Crisis, but Armageddon was always averted as a MAD sanity prevailed. However, the problem with MAD is that it is built on the premise that the leadership in Washington and Moscow is led by rational people. Now the people in the West are seriously concerned because of doubts about Putin’s sanity. Three years ago there was concern about the mental stability of Donald Trump who famously said: “I can’t understand. If we have nuclear weapons, why don’t we use them? It appears that there is a growing need for a failsafe chain of command among the nuclear powers to avoid the problems of hubris-driven mental instability leading to a disastrous button-pressing incident.

Russia, according to the White House, has prepared chemical weapons for use in Ukraine. Moscow claims that Ukraine has done the same. Ridiculous say both Washington and Kyiv. If the latter are to be believed then Putin is preparing a false flag operation whereby Russians claim they have been attacked by Ukrainian chemical weapons and respond with chemical guns blazing. But what chemical weapons? The Soviets at one time had the world’s largest biological and chemical weapons store. In fact, an estimated 65,000 were employed in the deadly business. Then along claim the 1973 Biological Weapons Convention and the 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention which banned these instruments of mass destruction. At the time, Russia had nearly 40,000 tons of chemical weapons. In 2017 the Organisation for the Prevention of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) reported that Moscow had destroyed its “declared” weapons stock. Then came the 2018 Novichok attack in Salisbury on former GRU agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter followed by a similar murderous attempt in 2020 on Russian dissident Alexei Navalny. In 2021, the CIA reported that Russia was back in the chemical weapons business, or, it had never really left it. This week’s White House announcement about the spectre of Russian chemical weapons leaves an important unanswered question: Is Russian use of chemical weapons a red line for NATO? If not, why mention it?

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World Review by Tom Arms

In this weekend’s World Review, LDV foreign correspondent Tom Arms looks at the forthcoming elections in Hungary and the ongoing elections in India. France is quitting Mali. Trump is not the only American politician being threatened by legal action. The Trump campaign has Hilary Clinton in her sights again.

Hungary’s beleaguered far-right Prime Minister Viktor Orban looks to have a secret weapon up his sleeve for the Hungarian general election scheduled for 3 April—Donald Trump. Orban’s ruling Fidesz Party enjoys a two-thirds majority In the Hungarian Parliament and appeared set to win another sweeping victory in April. But then in October the country’s feuding opposition parties decided to unite under the leader of provincial mayor Peter Marki-Zay. To make matters worse, Mayor Marki-Zay is a conservative. That is, he is cut from the same right-wing cloth as Orban—just not as extreme.

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Observations of an Expat: Free and Fair Elections in America

America believes in exporting its Democracy. And it has sought to do so right from the start. Congress regularly ties aid and trade packages to political change in developing countries, too often ignoring local conditions.

For many years America was seen by other countries as that “Shining City on the Hill” first mentioned in Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount and later repeated by Puritan leader John Winthrop and, more recently, by President Ronald Reagan.

Its War of Independence inspired the French Revolution, liberation movements in South America and elsewhere in the world. The stirring words of the Declaration of Independence are mirrored in similar documents across the globe.

But changes in American electoral politics means that the rest of the world is now questioning America’s claim to the moral high ground, and those questions undermine the success and stability of democracy elsewhere in the world.

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Tom Arms’ World Review

America’s Republican Party is at a political crossroads. Does it ditch or back Donald Trump? Kevin McCarthy, Leader of the Republican Party in the House of Representatives, knows which direction he prefers. He recently flew to Florida to visit Mar a Lago to kow tow to ex-president Donald Trump. The fact is that most of the Republican members of the lower house represent rural constituencies whose voters continue to declare their loyalty to The Donald. These Congressmen and women are up for re-election in one year and nine months. On top of that, Trump has let slip the rumour that he is considering setting up a third political party to be called The Patriot Party. This would, of course, split the Republican vote. Some polls claim that as much of the third of Republicans would move to a Trump party. But Republicans also have their anti-Trumpists. Most of them are in the Senate. Mitch McConnell, now the Senate Minority Leader, was a Trump acolyte for four years. But after Trump’s refusal to accept the election results and the Capitol Hill riots, the worm turned and declared: “I never want to speak to the man ever again.” Senators, unlike the lower house representatives, are elected for six years and their state-wide constituencies include large left-leaning urban constituencies. Republican senators, therefore, are more likely to join the ditch Trump campaign. But even in the Senate the anti-Trump movement is not so strong among Republicans that they can find the 17 Republican members needed to convict the ex-president in his forthcoming Senate impeachment trial.

Former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown issued a stark warning this week about the future of the unity of the United Kingdom. In fact, he said that the UK was in acute danger of fracturing and becoming a “failed state.” The main current causes are the political stresses and strains caused by Brexit and the pandemic. Scotland is leading the threatened break-up. The Scots voted overwhelmingly to remain in the EU in the 2016 Brexit referendum. In its 2014 independence referendum one of the main reasons the independence route was rejected was fear that the Scots would lose membership of the European Union. In May there were will be elections for the Scottish Parliament and polls indicate a landslide victory for the Scottish National Party. Its leader Nicola Sturgeon has promised a demand for a fresh referendum if the pollsters are correct. Northern Ireland also voted against Brexit and the deal that Boris Johnson has negotiated with the EU has put Northern Ireland firmly into the economic orbit of the EU and Eire. There is thus a growing feeling among the Northern Irish that reunification of the island is now inevitable and moving ever closer. The Johnson government’s handling of the pandemic has worsened matters. There has been little effort by Westminster to consult or coordinate public health actions in the regions. In fact, in most instances the national governments of Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland have taken the initiative which Westminster has belatedly followed. Gordon Brown wants a commission to review how the UK is governed and a campaign that that emphasises the advantage of union such as the NHS and a common defence. Is it too little too late?

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The beauty of the US electoral vote certification process

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As a fan of US Congressional language, I was pleased to hear Vice-President Pence going through the electoral college certification process this morning.

Each state is taken in turn. Their envelope has been opened. Their certificate has been checked by the clerks to check that it is all in order – right date, right signature, right text – that sort of thing, I suppose.

Over and over again, for each state, VP Pence repeats the same officialese:

This certificate from State X, the Parliamentarians advise me, is the only certificated vote from the state, it purports to be a return from the state and is annexed to a certificate of authority from the state according to a point of ascertained electors.

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Tragic end to Trump’s deceit

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The National Statuary Hall.

It’s not a name that trips readily off the tongue. It’s a big hall with about a hundred statues in it, in the US Capitol building in Washington DC. Each state is allowed to choose two statues, which they can replace if wanted.

When I was shown round it in 2019, I noticed Rosa Parks. Her statue was not chosen by her home state, Alabama. In an exception to the rule, she was placed there by unanimous vote of both chambers of the Congress. That speaks volumes.

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Observations of an expat: 2024

There are few certainties in American politics at the moment, but I think we can say (with fingers and toes crossed) that Donald Trump has lost the presidential election; Joe Biden will be inaugurated on 20 January 2021 and Trump will leave the White House (one way or another) on or about the same day.

But what will the obese, orange-faced narcissist with the bouffant hair style do once he has exited 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue?

Well, he will be 74 years old. He could simply retire to Mar-a-Lago and work on his golf handicap. He doesn’t have to worry about money. In addition to the billions of which he constantly boasts, Trump will receive an ex-president’s pension of $207,800; free healthcare; a staff and Secret Service protection.

That scenario, however, seems unlikely, Donald Trump is the ultimate illustration of power as an aphrodisiac. He thrives in the limelight and wilts in the shade. Donald Trump will want to continue as disrupter-in-chief outside elected office.

To do so, requires money.  This may attract him back to his property roots and a global real estate empire. It badly needs attention as most of his investments are in leisure and travel-related property which has been hit by the coronavirus pandemic.

But the problem with a return to real estate is that the Trump brand has been tarnished. While he was a rising star and then president everyone wanted to do business with him or his family. Doing business with a defeated and petulant president who is a right-wing ideologue would be too much of a political statement for most businessmen.

Another possibility is the media mogul route, either with his own television network, or, in tandem with an existing conservative platform. It he goes the latter route the most likely partner is the ultra-right wing One America News Network. Fox has been ruled out after they unceremoniously ditched him on election night.

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ICYMI – Biden and Harris offer comfort and joy in first speeches

I did sigh a bit when it was announced that Kamala Harris and Joe Biden would be speaking at 8pm local time that night. After four days of sitting up till the wee hours waiting for that count to move off 253, I could have done with an early night.

There was no way I was going to miss it though. Especially as I’d sat up on Thursday to listen to Trump’s outburst. I had planned to go to bed at 11pm but at 10:50, he outgoing President (how lovely it is to write that) announced a press conference at 11:30.

I knew I’d regret if if I missed it almost as much as I’d regret it if I watched it. It was worth it for the reaction of the media. I don’t think we’ve talked about how huge a thing it was for MSNBC to actually pull away from him, saying that they weren’t going to broadcast his speech because what he was saying was false. CNN’s banners basically saying that he was alleging electoral fraud without evidence were a delight to see.

I knew that the Biden and Harris speeches would be much more edifying. Friday night’s hilarious episode of Gogglebox helped me stay awake and I poured myself a weird cocktail of maraschino cherry liqueur and amaretto. It’s kind of like a cherry bakewell… Strangely, I was so preoccupied that I didn’t even find out the Strictly spoiler.

Harris and Biden did not disappoint.  Kamala Harris’s speech which I mostly sobbed my way through brought so much joy. Her touching reference to Joe Biden’s son Beau, a friend of hers who died in 2015 was particularly poignant, as was the way she talked about the history she was making and how it should encourage girls to ‘dream with conviction and lead with ambition.

But while I may be the first woman in this office, I will not be the last, because every little girl watching tonight sees that this is a country of possibilities. And to the children of our country, regardless of your gender, our country has sent you a clear message:

Dream with ambition, lead with conviction, and see yourselves in a way that others may not simply because they’ve never seen it before. But know that we will applaud you every step of the way.

Watch here:

Read the whole text here.

Joe Biden was much more inspiring than I expected, reaching out to all of America, including those who supported Donald Trump. We haven’t seen any of that these past four years. He has a good idea of what he wants to do at this challenging point in history:

Folks, America has always been shaped by inflection points, by moments in time where we’ve made hard decisions about who we are and what we want to be.

Lincoln in 1860, coming to save the union. FDR in 1932, promising a beleaguered country a New Deal. JFK in 1960, pledging a new frontier. And 12 years ago, when Barack Obama made history, he told us “Yes, we can.”

Well folks, we stand again at an inflection point. We have an opportunity to defeat despair, to build a nation of prosperity and purpose. We can do it. I know we can.

I’ve long talked about the battle for the soul of America. We must restore the soul of America. Our nation is shaped by the constant battle between our better angels and our darkest impulses. And what presidents say in this battle matters. It’s time for our better angels to prevail.

Tonight, the whole world is watching America. And I believe at our best, America is a beacon for the globe. We will not lead … we will lead not only by the example of our power but by the power of our example.

I’ve always believed — many of you’ve heard me say it — I’ve always believed we can define America in one word: Possibilities.

That in America everyone should be given the opportunity to go as far as their dreams and God-given ability will take them.You see, I believe in the possibilities of this country.

Watch the whole thing here.

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The USA is a warning to liberals: Tell a new story, or die

Yesterday we learnt about the newly formed Lib Dem North American branch. Today we hear from one of their members.

In the USA, “liberal” is a dirty word. Conservatives have for years used the term to mean “profligate lovers of state-spending, weak on crime and devoid of moral values.” As such, even Democratic politicians shy away from the moniker and have done for decades. With Trump in the White House, and a febrile political polarisation infecting US politics, this dynamic has only sharpened: “owning the libs” has become the favourite pastime of conservative commentators, who seem to hate “liberals” more even than they love their president.

More recently, “liberal” and “liberalism” have come under fire from a newly-energized progressive left. When young progressive activists term Joe Biden a “liberal,” they mean it as a smear. “Liberal,” to this growing portion of the political population, means “centrist, reformist, non-radical, boring, and too willing to compromise.”

Those who champion radical changes to the US political system – healthcare for all, dismantling the mass-incarceration state, defunding the police – would never accept the label “liberal.” They feel let down by decades of leaders who compromised their principles for power, content to prop up massively unequal social and economic systems while accepting piecemeal reform.

UK politics is different: we haven’t slid so far. The UK is a less polarised country, and our right is not as extreme, populist, or racist as it is in the US. The centre of political gravity in the UK is far to the left of the centre of US politics, such that many US Democrats could only fit into the Conservative Party.

I am reminded of the old joke told by a British comedian to a US audience: “In England, we have two main political parties: the Labour Party – or as you would say, the Democrats – and the Conservative Party – or as you would say, the Democrats.” The joke still works: only our most conservative Conservatives could find common cause with today’s Republicans. Yet these winds are blowing across the Atlantic: UK politics is becoming more divided, more partisan, and more populist. In politics, as in culture, we are trending American.

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Building the Lib Dem North American Branch

Seventy-five years ago, the United States of America changed the world with two acts that define our current global order. Through dropping the bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, America simultaneously brought World War Two to an end and took on the mantle of the pre-eminent global superpower. As the nominal “leader of the free world”, America cultivated science and the arts at an unprecedented scale while taking on the role as the global beacon of liberal, internationalist principles. However, as James Croft has superbly illustrates in his upcoming article, being a “Liberal” in America has become a smear. But, it doesn’t have to be this way and wasn’t this way until recently.

For UK citizens working and living abroad, we have a unique perspective of the memories of the United Kingdom and the current experiences of our countries of residence. In a time where we are physically isolated due to Covid-19, we can also connect over our shared values and principles. In this environment, a group of likeminded, internationalist liberal activists has formed in the North American region – the North American Branch of Liberal Democrats Overseas.

The Branch has formed to action our liberal principles, be a forum for liberal discussion in the region and work to raise the profile of international liberalism. As a Branch of Liberal Democrats Overseas, we are the local ‘home’ for British liberals of all stripes, living in America, Canada and the Caribbean.

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Observations of an expat: Liking people

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People like to do business with people they like. Think about it. How many times have you returned to the same bar, restaurant, shop or café because you like the owner or the convivial waitress. You will even pay over the odds because that big smile and friendly chat with a croissant is worth the extra money. Life is just too short for decisions to be based on the saving of a few pennies.

Another much sought-after characteristic is competence. In fact, charm and competence are generally considered a winning combination. And one without the other is, well, pretty much the exact opposite.

That is why a report published this week by the Pew Research Centre is such bad news for everyone in America. It is also an object lesson for the rest of the world.

The Pew Research Centre is a Washington-based think tank that for the past two decades has conducted annual in-depth international surveys on different countries’ perceptions of the United States. Actually, the Pew people prefer the term “fact tank” which, of course, brings their reports into direct conflict with the Trump Administration who might be best described as an “alternative fact farm.”

Certainly the White House takes little comfort from this week’s Pew survey which reports that perceptions of America and its president plummeted to record lows. The President of the United States is viewed as incompetent and the country as a whole is disliked.

Twenty years ago the British people, for instance, gave the “land of opportunity” an 87 percent approval rating. Germany’s approval levels of America were at 78 percent. France, which has always had a more ambivalent attitude to the US, was a bit lower at 62 percent. At the end  of summer 2020 the approval rating of three of America’s most important allies is roughly half of what it was at the turn of the millennium– 41 percent in UK, 26 percent In Germany and 32 percent in France.

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Observations of an expat: Politics of fear and loathing

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Fear is the major political currency of America’s Republican Party. The traditionalists are frightened of socialism. They are scared of big government. They dread the thought of a diminished suburban life style.  They are panic-stricken at the thought of losing their guns that protect from the forces of both the law and lawlessness. But most of all, in an increasingly racially divided society, the long dominant White population is terrified of becoming a minority.

Republicans will deny that they are racists. But the fact is that race issues have been a dominant theme in American politics from the arrival of the first African slaves in 1619, to the genocidal elimination of Native Americans, the Civil War, segregation, Jim Crow, the Civil Rights Act and, finally, Trump’s wall.

They are not overly concerned with constitutional rights (except perhaps their interpretation of the Second Amendment). Enforcement of the rule of law is not at the top of agenda (except as it pertains to the protection of property). Whether or not their president is a tax-evading, misogynistic, narcissistic, racist, incompetent foul-mouthed liar is of little interest. They accept that he is a bastard. But he is their bastard. Even a global pandemic which has left more Americans dead than in any other country takes a back seat to the battle to preserve the fabled American dream.

America is a largely conservative society. Donald Trump is in the White House because he has successfully managed to persuade Americans that he is their best bet for fighting off the foreign hordes and ideas that run counter to perceived American values. In this election, the American right has gone to war; and, as in any war, the first casualty is truth.

That was obvious from the Republican Convention where speaker after speaker uttered outrageous lies in pursuit of four more years of a Trump presidency. Former Army Colonel turned anti-abortionist nun, Sister Deidre Byrne, accused Joe Biden and Kamala Harris of supporting not only late-term abortion, but infanticide as well.

Tennessee Senator Marshal Blackburn warned: “If the Democrats have their way, they would keep you locked in your homes until you become dependent on the government for everything. “

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Observations of an expat: The Thucydides Trap

Huawei, Hong Kong, Uighurs, the South China Sea, Chinese economic and military growth, “Kung Flu”, economic crisis, cyber-attacks, intellectual property theft, trade wars, sanctions, Donald Trump, Xi Jinping … are all combining to raise the spectre that the world is marching eyes wide open into the Thucydides Trap.

What, you may ask is the Thucydides Trap? It is a political/military term coined by American academic Graham Allison in 2012 to warn against the inevitability of war between China and America.

It was based on the work of the Greek historian Thucydides who explained that the Peloponnesian War (431-404 BCE) was the result of a growing power (Athens) rising to challenge the supremacy of the established power (Sparta) to such an extent that the only possible resolution was war.

The scenario has been used to explain the causes of several conflicts throughout history including World War One (Germany challenging Britain) and World War Two in Asia (Japan challenging the US).

Not all of the contests have resulted in an exchange of blows. The Soviet challenge was successfully contained at the Cold War stage. This was partly because of the nuclear-based Mexican stand-off and partly because the Soviet system failed to develop an economic model that challenged American supremacy.

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Observations of an expat: Start talks Start

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US-Russian talks started this week in Vienna between US and Russia to replace the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) which expires in February.

Negotiators face massive obstacles – for lots of reasons.

For a start, Presidents Trump and Putin are fond of their nuclear toys. They have both effectively scrapped the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Force Treaty and announced significant investment in new nuclear weapons.

Both men are keen on the more “bang for the buck” theory of nuclear war.

The other big reason the talks are headed for failure is the Trump Administration’s insistence that China is included in the negotiations. China’s nuclear arsenal is miniscule (300 warheads compared to an estimated 6,185 American and 6,800 Russian). But the Americans view the Chinese as the greater medium to long-term threat to American interests.

The French and British nuclear deterrents have been accounted for in the complex alphabet soup of Soviet-American nuclear weapons accords. But France and Britain are American allies. China and Russia are – at the moment – close – but not allied. The Chinese argue that if they are included then why not also India, Pakistan, Israel and possibly even Iran. This would, of course, turn negotiations into an incomprehensible farce as each country has a different strategic reason for its nuclear deterrent.

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Observations of an expat: Coronavirus exploitation

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A pandemic is a perfect excuse for politicians to exploit public fear for their own political advantage—and many of them are doing just that.

Let’s start with Trumpland where the administration’s mishandling of the pandemic means that the country is fast heading for a world-beating 100,000-plus deaths. Trump is using coronavirus to stoke the fires of Sinophobia. China has been the US administration’s chief bogey since 2016 when advisers such as Steve Bannon were warning that a Sino-American war was inevitable. The anti-Chinese stand is also proving popular with the voters in an election year with 70 percent of the electorate critical of China.

China’s President Xi Ji-ping is just as bad. Between Beijing and Washington an increasing number of outrageous conspiracy theories have been launched by both sides. The Chinese have also used the pandemic to boost military operations in the South China Sea and is selectively dispatching its medical equipment to countries where it thinks it can establish a stronger foothold. It has also used Covid-19 to crackdown on Hong Kong dissidents and is claiming in capitals around the world that its relatively successful handling of the pandemic demonstrates the superiority of the country’s political system. The latter claim is a leaky bucket as increasing doubt is poured on Beijing’s death statistics.

One of the most blatant pandemic power grabs is in Hungary. President Viktor Orban has managed to persuade his parliament that the danger of the pandemic means he should rule by decree for an unlimited period. As a result, the already sycophantic press has been further muzzled and public protests have been banned and in some cases criminalised.

In Turkey, President Erdogan, released thousands of prisoners from jail—except the political prisoners. He has also blocked fundraising efforts by opposition city councils in Ankara, Istanbul and Izmir.

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Observations of an expat: American guinea pigs

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Thank you America for volunteering your citizens as coronavirus guinea pigs. To be more specific, thank you President Trump and the governors of Florida, Texas, Tennessee, South Carolina, Minnesota, Vermont, Ohio, Idaho, North Dakota, Montana, New York, Connecticut and New Jersey.

They have decided that the first duty of government is the protection of the almighty dollar rather than the protection of human life. Dan Patrick, Lieutenant Governor of Texas, has gone further and proposed that elderly Americans should offer to die to protect the economy.

Because public health and safety is the responsibility of state governments, anti-lockdown measures vary from state to state. New York, New Jersey and Connecticut have been the hardest hit and are trying to ease back towards normality with a suck and see approach.

Georgia is more dramatic. The Governor still advocates social distancing but is reopening restaurants, hair salons, bowling alleys and — my personal favourite — cinemas. Just how hormonal teenagers will manage back row gropes while sitting six feet apart is a mystery waiting to be solved.

South Carolina is reopening its beaches and non-essential retail outlets and Tennessee’s Governor Bill Lee has more or less said to hell with it and opened everything.

Meanwhile the anti-lockdown protests continue, spurred on by commentators such as Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity dubbing coronavirus a “pandumbic.” The first and biggest demonstration was in Wisconsin. An estimated 2,500 people, many of them wielding guns and pro-Trump banners, gathered outside the governor’s mansion in Lansing. The Democratic Governor, Gretchen Whitmer, had angered them by imposing a strict state-wide lockdown.  On Thursday it was announced that seven of the demonstrators had been diagnosed with coronavirus.

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